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Five Questions For Hiring a Lawyer for Criminal or DUI Defense

Posted by Steven H. Fagan | Oct 19, 2018 | 1 Comment

The search for the right lawyer for your Illinois criminal or DUI defense obviously is an undertaking worth careful thought. There are many things to think about, starting with the qualifications and experience of an attorney both in the geographic area where you have court, and in the legal area of criminal or DUI defense. But what about some basic, down to earth, practical questions you should consider before hire any professional, espescially an attorney?  

Five Questions For Choosing a Criminal or DUI Lawyer

Here are five basic things to consider before speaking with an attorney. These are the nuts and bolts of a good professional relationship, and you have a right to know what to expect, so long as you make it a point to discuss these questions.

1. What is my legal fee and will you put it in writing?

A handshake is always nice, but it's not legally binding, and every lawyer knows it. We've heard countless horror stories from clients about relationships with lawyers who give a common refrain ... "I know I said $XXX, but I need more money". It's not necessarily that the lawyer is being underhanded. At the outset of the relationship, the attorney failed to fairly estimate the time and work involved in the case. That's because they weren't made to think about their fee carefully ahead of time, and doing things right for your benefit means more complication or involvement than anticipated. Ultimately, it hurts you when your attorney starts feeling that pinch. The mechanism of a signed written legal agreement changes that dynamic. Everyone knows what to expect, what their responsibilities are under the agreement, and you know what your budget is from the start. The attorney is forced to be far more realistic about their fee up front, and you'll have a clearer picture as well.

The law firm of Fagan, Fagan & Davis offers written legal services agreements for DUI or Criminal matters, so there are no little surprises. You can even e-sign here in our office or in the comfort of your home on your smartphone or tablet if you like, and you get a signed copy in your email inbox almost instantly that you can print or store electronically as you prefer. When we agree to a fee, that's the fee. 

2. Who will be in Court with me?

"My colleague Jim is going to be there". Wait, you hired a lawyer, why isn't that lawyer appearing in court? This is a criminal case or a DUI, and it's serious. The truth is that attorneys are people too, despite the many shark and bulldog analogies. They get sick, they have last minute emergencies, and in the world of Illinois criminal and DUI defense trial work, the lawyer isn't always in command of their own schedule - sometimes a Judge just won't budge and wants their trial to happen right now, no matter that it interferes with the attorney's ability to appear for you.

Fagan, Fagan & Davis isn't an individual lawyer. We're a team of attorneys that have been working together for decades, and when one of us has a conflict, the rest are available to help, after a personal one-on-one discussion about your case status, long and short term objectives, and the ability to physically review the files and evidence. That's a far cry from "my colleague Jim". 

3. What if I have questions about my case?

What happens when you wake up at 2am and you think of a question you forgot to ask your lawyer, or you realize there's something important your lawyer needs to know for your case coming up next week? Well hopefully your lawyer is sleeping soundly. You want that, you really do. That said, what would happen if you did pick up the phone at an odd hour? Can you send an email? How soon can you expect a call back? Is there a staff you can leave a message with and maybe get a response or just a voicemail? What if you need to book an appointment - does the attorney need to do that or can a staff member? Believe it or not, we've heard stories of defendants who simply could not speak to their lawyer (or any lawyer at a law firm) for weeks on end, and sometimes, were only able to leave a voicemail. 

At our law firm, you can call 24/7 and get a live person. If it's nothing urgent, even if your attorney isn't immediately available, you can leave a message with that live person and expect a call back within one business day (faster if it's something urgent). Alternatively, you can choose to ask to speak to our full time in-office assistant if you have a question that might not require the attention of your attorney. Maybe you want to get into more detail, though. If so, you can send an email to an email address we provide our clients that will be seen by staff and at least two attorneys in our firm. If you call Monday through Friday, between 8am and 8pm, you can even book an appointment with your attorney if you need to. And if you're really old school, yes, you can send a fax. 

4. Will I know what my current bill is and how to pay it?

Back to those nightmare stories we hear about vague handshake fee agreements, those often go hand in hand with a common problem in the world of criminal and DUI defense firms. Many lawyers don't provide any invoicing. Having an invoice means that you know exactly where you stand, and you and your lawyer have a current record of your financial relationship. That clarity can relieve so much potential tension, and allow you the peace of mind knowing you are on the same page as your attorney. Your attorney, meanwhile, should be focussed on defending you, not on anything else. Can you pay using credit? Debit? Check? Cash? PayPal? Zelle or QuickPay? Can you use goats and sheep? Just seeing if you're still there. What about assistance with financing? 

Fagan, Fagan & Davis has been providing invoicing to our clients for over a decade. For over a year now, we've provided e-invoicing, which means our clients can access the information they need any time. They can even pay directly from within the invoice using a debit or credit card, and we provide instructions and assistance with all the payment methods mentioned, and have for years. We can even point you in the direction of financing, to ensure the financial burden of hiring the attorney you want doesn't get in the way of, well, hiring the attorney you want.

5. Will I get reminders of court appearance dates and meetings?

This is a big one. Attorneys have calendars and keep a schedule called a docket, and that docket is very important for keeping lawyers of every stripe on task and showing up when and where they're supposed to. It also helps prevent conflicts. Many lawyers, even today, primarily use a date book. As a rough estimate, about 25% of clients simply expect to get a reminder from their lawyer before each and every Court appearance and appointment, and understandably, most of the rest would appreciate and prefer that reminder. After all, missing your court appearance in a criminal or DUI matter can result in a warrant for your arrest and an order forfeiting your bail bond. Neither is desirable for either you or your lawyer.

Fagan, Fagan & Davis provides reminders by email and text message for our clients of each and every court appearance and attorney meeting. We don't ever want our clients to miss an opportunity in Court, or for their freedom to be put in jeopardy. Simply by sending reminders, we can help our clients avoid trouble while dealing with the burden of defending themselves in a stressful time. 

In short, all of these things are no brainers once you think about them. You're already in a tough spot and dealing with serious matters and with the intimidating Court system. These five basic issues should be something you don't have to worry about when relying on the help of a lawyer that's supposed to be making your life easier, and easing your worries.  With Fagan, Fagan & Davis, that's exactly what we do every day. If that sounds good to you, give us a call at 847-635-8200, email us at [email protected], or yes, if for some reason you prefer, you can even send a fax.  

About the Author

Steven H. Fagan

Steve Fagan earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, is a member of the NCDD, NACDL, ISBA and a founding member of the DUIDLA. He is published and has taught CLE for lawyers on subjects such as sex offenses, DUI and criminal defense, focuses on trial work and Real Estate closings


lawyersonia Reply

Posted Aug 29, 2023 at 22:39:33

I ought to say, this article truely hits the nail on the head when it comes to the essential components of hiring a crook protection lawyer. Facing criminal troubles can be an pretty daunting experience, and discovering the proper felony illustration is paramount. These 5 questions are precisely the ones that want to be requested earlier than making such an vital decision.

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We regularly appear for Illinois Criminal defense, DUI defense and Traffic violations throughout the Chicago area including Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane and Will county courts, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Bridgeview, Markham, Maywood, Waukegan, Wheaton, Naperville, Elgin, St. Charles and more.